What makes parenting so challenging at times? One widespread research study reports that feeling “unprepared” tops the list for many parents’ causes of dissatisfaction. And parents of teenagers, in particular, may feel this acutely as so many changes converge at once: adolescents are changing in every conceivable way while they often push parents away in their search for individuality. That this often happens during parents’ own mid-life changes only adds to the poignancy of this period in a family’s life.
So how can parents prepare for this dynamic journey? Here are some tips:
Learn about adolescent development
You probably read about babies before your first child was born. You had a pretty fair idea about developmental time frames – when he would see you in focus, when she would begin to crawl, etc. Adolescents are, in many ways, changing as dramatically as they were as small babies – and yet many parents don’t make the time to learn about what is happening developmentally to their teenager. Information and knowledge will shed light on this puzzle, and it will enhance your understanding and your ability to provide support.
Here’s an example: Teenagers may look like adults, but they are not. Their brains are still under development, which causes them to be more impulsive, more spontaneous and developmentally not ready to foresee the consequences of their actions. Knowing this - and knowing that developmentally they are not ready for certain levels of responsibility- can help you better manage your expectations and your relationship.
Put YOU into the equation
The issues that really get intense for parents aren’t always about the teenager – sometimes, parental issues are at the heart of the situation, and adults need to be able to separate this out and view the situation objectively. Remember, you are changing and developing too, and redefining the nature of your relationship with your teenager can bring up issues for you. It is imperative that parents examine themselves, their behavior, objectives and beliefs in the context of their family dynamics.
It is too easy to be habitual in our responses to children. Yet, you can see the growth and changes that are occurring with your teenagers – they are changing in dramatic ways. It stands to reason, then, that parents need to examine the rules, roles and relationships to make sure they’re adjusting for all this change. That requires self-examination.
Talk to your peers
Many parents find themselves feeling alone, and in their alone-ness they lose the ability to see the similarities in their experiences with those of other parents. There is so much you can gain by talking to other people in the same situation you are in. In sharing with others you gain additional perspective, and you are likely to see things in a new light. You may find others who have walked your road and who found other, or better, ways to address similar situations. Allow yourself to learn from them. Develop these friendships and make time to connect with them. Think of it as your own support network where “getting prepared” is one of the beneficial outcomes.
Find the humor
Have you ever noticed how humor can make tension instantly melt away? Some parents just tend to take things too seriously. Consciously look for the humor in situations because it allows you to create an environment of lightness and an attitude where communication is likely to be enhanced. Used appropriately, humor is a tool and a friend.
Take care of yourself
Sacrificing yourself to your children’s needs serves nobody – certainly not you, and it actually does a disservice to kids. They benefit from seeing parents as strong, fulfilled individuals who take good care of themselves, and you need nothing less if you are to thrive and grow.
Dr. Laurence Steinberg in his book Crossing Paths; How Your Child’s Adolescence Triggers Your Own Crisis says that the parents who thrive during their child’s adolescence have genuine and fulfilling interests outside of their parenting role. There is room for family life and career or other outside interests, and those who thrive are people who have both in balance.
Be open to learn from others.
Every day parents are given opportunities to prepare and to learn to be better as parents. Yet many times adults squander the opportunities put in front of us. It’s easy to criticize how others handle situations with their teenagers, but if instead, you ask the question “what would I do in that situation?” you can create opportunities to prepare yourself for what you may face. Parents of teenagers are likely to find themselves in situations that are unpredictable. Sometimes kids do crazy things. But if you get in the habit of promoting open-mindedness, and of asking questions and getting facts before you react, you will behave in ways that don’t embarrass you during a time of crisis. Parents can develop their own strategies by asking themselves “what would I do?”
Get involved in your child’s school life and social life
Some parents pull away from their kids during adolescence. Granted, this may seem like what your teen is asking for, but it’s not. The character of your involvement may change during this time, but by all means stay connected in meaningful ways. One big way is to know your child’s friends. This not only brings pleasure into your life, but it allows you to know more about your child, and from a different perspective.
There’s a lot about this stage in a family’s life that can create pressure and challenges. Probably only a few escape without a scar or two. It is also a time that is ripe with opportunities for growth for parents - so don’t be left behind. There is opportunity for you to thrive as you grow, too.
Sue Blaney is the author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride and Practical Tips for Parents of Young Teens; What You Can Do to Enhance Your Child’s Middle School Years. As a communications professional and the parent of two teenagers, she speaks frequently to parents and schools about parenting issues, improving communications and creating parent discussion groups. Visit our website at http://www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com
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